(Reuters) - The Winnipeg Jets thumped the Nashville Predators 5-1 in a Game Seven decider on Thursday to book a first trip to the Western Conference Final, where they will face a Vegas Golden Knights team that has smashed expectations in its inaugural season.
The Jets jumped out to an early lead against the top-seeded Predators in the series decider thanks to the physical play of Paul Stastny, who finished with two goals and an assist.
Jets coach Paul Maurice said pushing the tempo and playing loose were the keys to his team’s success against the Predators, a formula the squad will look to recreate when it battles the Knights in Game One in Winnipeg on Saturday.
“They came out and did the two things that we wanted them to do in this game and that was play fast but also enjoy playing the game,” Maurice told reporters.
“Play with some confidence and some courage. And we did that right from the start. We had good jump.”
The Knights, whose hometown of Sin City stands in stark contrast to the humble streets of Canada’s Winnipeg, are playing with house money after becoming the third expansion team in NHL history to make the playoffs in its first season.
The Knights swept the Los Angeles Kings and dispatched the San Jose Sharks in six games to book their ticket to the third round, where they will hope the spectacular play of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will help quiet the speedy Jets.
“They’re a fast team and they have a lot of offense for sure,” Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault said, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
“They have unbelievable players on that roster and it will definitely be a tough task.”
Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by John O'Brien